Trumpworld Think Tank America First Policy Institute Is Barely Paying Its Bills

A nonprofit think tank aligned with former President Donald Trump started 2021 strong, but ended up falling well short of its fundraising expectations, according to a new tax filing obtained by The Daily Beast .

The America First Policy Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization formed last year by a group of Trump administration officials and informally known as the “White House in Waiting,” initially announced a first year operating budget of $20 million. But according to its 2021 tax return, the group raised less than three-quarters of that amount, reporting about $14.9 million in total contributions.

That may sound like a decent effort, but more than $10 million of that amount came from 10 anonymous donors, with the largest single source giving $3 million. (AFPI is not required to make the names of its contributors public.) Trump’s donors accounted for $1 million, in the form of a transfer last June from his Save America leadership PAC. Weeks after Trump sent the money, AFPI officials joined him at a news conference at Mar-a-Lago to announce their ultimately failed class-action lawsuit against the social media companies. Both Trump and AFPI used this event to raise money.

Created last April, AFPI is the largest pro-Trump operation launched after his presidency. The group’s website lists 127 employees, including unpaid outside advisers, and has been criticized within Trump circles for its naked ambition for power in a second Trump administration.

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His roster of employees reads like a who’s who of Trumpworld. Names include MAGA stalwarts such as former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, former acting head of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, former head of Admin. of Small Business Linda McMahon, former National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, former Trump spiritual advisor Paula White-Cain, former Vice President Mike Pence National Security Advisor Keith Kellogg and AFPI CEO , former Acting Director of Domestic Policy Brooke Rollins. Former top White House advisers and Trump family members Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have also served as informal advisers, Axios previously reported.

Despite this pedigree, AFPI presents itself as a “non-partisan research institute”. (He spent $171.00 on “research.”) And while AFPI is prohibited by law from directly participating in campaign activities, earlier this year it hosted a legislative policy event that doubled as the first Trump’s return to Washington, DC.

The filing also reveals about $10.8 million in expenses. About $4.4 million went to costs associated with maintaining his extensive staff: Rollins earned about $417,000 in salary, more than double the second-highest paid official. The second largest single line item was $2 million to strike “other program expenses.” AFPI also dropped a little more than $600,000 in lobbying, and the group put more than $2 million into fundraising and events combined.

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But AFPI reported making only one grant last year: a fixed gift of $1 million to the Citizens United Foundation. The conservative group, led by longtime Trump adviser David Bossie, won the eponymous 2012 Supreme Court case that gave rise to super PACs and unlimited “dark money” campaign spending.

Bossie’s fundraising practices faced scrutiny last year, with Axios and the Campaign Legal Center revealing that another of his groups spent nearly all of his income, mostly from small donors, in administrative and fundraising costs.

Consultants took a smaller bite out of AFPI’s results, with Convert Digital leading the way with $1.2 million in fundraising, and GOP pollster Scott Rasmussen’s RMG Research receiving $340,000. R6 Consulting, a Texas business registration firm linked to Julie Radford, Ivanka Trump’s former chief of staff, got $139,000 for “strategic planning.”

But Bossie’s involvement illustrates another characteristic of AFPI, namely how the ever-changing Trumpworld fundraising landscape over the past two years has made it even harder to follow the money.

For example, in 2017, Bossie had also co-founded America First Policies, Inc., AFPI’s nonprofit forerunner. Last August, shortly after Trump sent $1 million to AFPI, America First Policies, Inc., donated $1 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. this Super PAC had given $1 million to another new pro-Trump super PAC two days after Trump’s $1 million gift to AFPI, federal records show.

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But loyalties have also shifted. And when AFPI brought Trump back to D.C. this spring, as the star guest of a two-day conference in a hotel basement a few blocks from the Capitol building, the warring factions inside the tent MAGA, eyeing privileged places in a second Trump White House, drew their knives.

A Trump adviser took the opportunity at the time to denounce the AFPI as “a mile wide and an inch deep, all glitz and no substance.” That adviser told The Daily Beast that the group was “burning through donor money and doing nothing meaningful to advance a coherent political agenda.”

But news of AFPI’s shortfall comes as Trump himself struggled to secure support from small-dollar donors in the months leading up to his 2024 announcement. And if the former president can’t consolidate power within the MAGA world, this White House-in-waiting may have to wait a little longer.

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